Monday, June 17, 2024

6 regional entities to receive $3.3M to fund transportation improvements

Six regional entities could receive WMPO grant funding to help move along transportation projects in the Cape Fear. (Port City Daily/file)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — A handful of projects in the Cape Fear area will get a funding boost from the local transportation planning agency to improve conditions and performance of area roadways, multi-use paths and public transit.

The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization was awarded $5.1 million from the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last November. The infusion of money is available for disbursement in the WMPO’s 500-square-mile service area, which covers New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick counties and respective municipalities.

The WMPO Technical Coordinating Committee will discuss approval of funds at its Wednesday morning meeting, with the full board having final say Oct. 26.

The federal funds include:

  • $4.1 million for the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program — its broad latitude includes transportation planning and projects that preserve or improve conditions on federal highways, bridges, tunnels, public roads, ped and bike infrastructure and transit capital projects
  • $513,872 for Transportation Alternatives Set Aside — geared toward community improvements, such as historic preservation and vegetation management, environmental mitigation, recreation trails and safe routes to school projects 
  • $493,634 for Carbon Reduction — to use to reduce transportation emissions through state carbon-reduction strategies 

The infrastructure act replaces Obama’s 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. By comparison, the new bill includes increased annual funding to the WMPO by about 5%  due to the carbon-reduction element.

Funds will be infused into the WMPO’s budget for five fiscal years, ending 2027. Each year the organization should receive roughly the same amount, a little over $5 million, transportation planning engineer Scott James said.

The money from this fiscal year must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2027, and anything unused will be returned to the feds. 

The WMPO put out a call for projects from local entities in midsummer and closed applications mid-September. Six organizations applied for funds and are being recommended by WMPO staff for full funding. 

However, it’s a two-step process. The technical review committee will first review the awards. The full board then has final approval, and therefore grant amounts could be subject to change upon their end-of-month vote.

The federal funds cover 80% of project costs, and a 20% local match is required.

After the projects are awarded, the remaining money — $1.5 to $2 million — will be held in reserves. If any currently funded projects are over budget, entities can request more money from the WMPO’s program.

Two traffic signals are in the works for South 3rd Street: at the intersection of Ann and Orange streets. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

City of Wilmington and NCDOT

The largest chunk of funding for this round of grants is for the City of Wilmington, specifically traffic signal installations downtown.

If approved by the board, WMPO will award the city $971,840. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s traffic services for Division 3 will receive $542,400 from the WMPO to provide a local match.

The city originally asked for $2.4 million to install two traffic signals on South 3rd Street. The NCDOT estimated the cost to install a light at Orange and South 3rd at $678,000 and at Ann and South 3rd for $705,000.

It’s expected to take two years to complete from the time money is allocated.

“This is because of the needed right-of-way and utility relocations in this area, and the current timeline for signal pole manufacturing,” NCDOT spokesperson Lauren Haviland said.

Concerned citizens have been reaching out to both the city and NCDOT for over a year asking for the light installations, which will be vehicular, and pedestrian activated.

Resident Dennis McGarry garnered nearly 700 signatures on a petition he delivered to city council at its regular Aug. 2 meeting. McGarry told council the area is a critical safety concern as a highway with more than 15,000 cars traveling on it daily — many exceeding the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit. 

He also noted per police records, there are roughly 50 accidents per year at the 3rd Street intersections. Three other residents spoke during the August public comment period as well, including a St. Mary Catholic School student who was hit by a car in late July. Council approved unanimously to apply for WMPO funding.

NCDOT spokesperson Lauren Haviland said the state entity had the Orange and 3rd streets intersection on its radar as part of the Highway Safety Improvement Program.

In late 2021, NCDOT performed traffic signal analyses for the areas by evaluating vehicular and pedestrian data, existing site conditions and crash history. Based on its findings, NCDOT determined the traffic signals were warranted, though it did not have the funds to cover them.

Wave Transit could fund 10 new shelters and 10 benches for stops along its fixed route. (Port City Daily/file)

Wave Transit

Wave Transit, the region’s public transportation service, has applied for $339,000 to cover $423,750 needed to install 10 transit shelters and 10 benches along nine routes throughout Wilmington.

The cost covers engineering and design, construction of concrete pads, ADA ramps and access, waste receptacle and solar lighting, as well as the structures.

Based on the highest loading points, with consideration given to long wait times and stops with a high number of seniors and/or children, Wave’s executive director Marie Parker determined the most appropriate locations for benches and shelters: Princess Place Drive, Creekwood, Market Street, Greenfield Street, Carolina Beach Road, College Road and 17th Street.

Parker confirmed some locations are shared stops, with more than one route serving it.

Wave averages 40,000 to 45,000 customers annually on its fixed routes, currently including 418 total stops. Yet, there are only 15 benches and 27 shelters, accounting for 6% of its amenities. Other state agencies average around 15%, according to Parker.

“Installation of improved amenities will increase access for passengers with disabilities, promote safety and passenger comfort, and increase attractiveness of City roadways, as well as a possible increase to ridership,” Parker said in a statement.

If the quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot in November is voted on by taxpayers, it would help fund additional benches and shelters for Wave Transit, as well as extend bus hours, increase frequency for bus routes and provide free youth passes for travelers.

WMPO funds could help create the 10-foot-wide multi-use path along Carolina Beach Road from Willoughby Park Court to Antoinette Drive. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

New Hanover County

The county applied for $461,949 from the WMPO toward its pedestrian safety improvement plan in the Monkey Junction area. The $3.7-million project has been in the works by NCDOT for the last six years.

The WMPO funds will be allocated toward a 10-foot-wide multi-use path to stretch 1 mile from Willoughby Park Court to Antoinette Drive along Carolina Beach Road. New Hanover will chip in $115,000, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation will cover the remaining $577,000.

The full safety plan will also include construction of a curb and gutter along both sides of Carolina Beach Road from Antoinette Drive and Willoughby Park Road, currently not funded.

The county and NCDOT began pursuing this project in response to numerous accidents at the intersection of College and Carolina Beach roads. Over the last decade, seven bike and 16 pedestrian accidents have been reported, with six resulting in deaths.

If awarded, then the county’s matching funds would be allocated in the fiscal year 2023-2024 budget, according to a county spokesperson.

The HAWK crosswalk located on Causeway Drive in Wrightsville Beach has been the subject of question after police triggered the signal in order to catch drivers who did not stop (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Wrightsville Beach has been looking to expand Causeway Drive to accommodate bike lanes, but it’s contingent on NCDOT resurfacing the road. (Port City Daily/file)

Wrightsville Beach

A plan over a year in the works could receive $269,245 to kickstart progress on bicycle and pedestrian improvements along Causeway Drive in Wrightsville Beach.

The beach town’s board of aldermen began preliminary plans to eliminate about a dozen on-street parking spots, narrow lanes and provide a 5-foot extended shoulder from Seacrest to Island drives for a bike path at a July 2021 meeting. The board has since held two public hearings and has not voted in favor or against yet.

Current plans include extending the shoulder of Causeway Drive to 7 feet wide while retaining the road’s four travel lanes and a center turn lane. The town would chip in $67,311 toward the project.

Town manager Tim Owens explained, the project moving forward is contingent on NCDOT’s agreement to resurface the roadway, which would be needed to create bike lanes on either side of the road.

“It’s not a done deal by any means,” Owens said. “We’re going through the process and it’s contingent on getting a grant.”

Wrightsville Beach also recently received state funds for hiring a consultant to update its townwide multimodal plan.

Ploof Road, owned and maintained by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, is finally open in Leland after months of construction and delays. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Leland)
The Town of Leland will construct a pedestrian crosswalk over U.S. 17 at the intersection of Ploof Road and Olde Waterford Way. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Town of Leland)

Town of Leland

The Leland Town Council approved a resolution to apply for the WMPO funds at its Aug. 18 meeting. The board’s end goal is to create a pedestrian crossing of U.S. Highway 17 at Ploof Road and Olde Waterford Way. It would include approximately 300 feet of sidewalks to connect the new crossing to the existing sidewalk network.

Its construction would make it the only pedestrian crossing over the multi-lane highway and increase access to residential, commercial and retail services.

The project is identified in the town’s 2016 Pedestrian Plan and included in the WMPO’s 2040 and 2045 Metropolitan Transportation plans. The total cost is estimated at $833,279, which includes design, permitting and construction. 

The WMPO grant would cover 80%, or $666,623, with a local town match of $166,656.

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